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Hugi Guðmundsson - Apocrypha

Guðrún Ólafsdottir (mezzo-soprano)
Nordic Affect/Daniel Bjornason

MusMap 001 [TT: 45 mins]

This successful and widely performed Icelandic composer (b.1977) has broken new ground in a work which takes deep inspiration from his experience of Gregorian chant juxtaposed with contemporary music, and which he sought to combine rather than to contrast those influences.

For many listeners and collectors it is the instrumentation (and electronic enhancement) which will gain and, hopefully, hold attention. It is far more than a gimmick that his chamber orchestra is one of baroque instruments, strings, baroque guitar, flute, harp, harpsichord and percussion, plus. Their sounds are focused and beautifully recorded, often with what one can describe as an electronic halo, the latter aplied with discretion; he tells how "there are moments when you aren't really sure if it's the instruments or the electronics you are listening to; there are a lot more electronics in the piece than most people think but they are often just slight colourations of the soundscapes; it is very easy to keep adding electronics in music and takes a lot of discipline to be modest". Guðmundsson describes it as "like a collision of two eras" which fascinated him.

The harmonies are ear catching and compelling. The music is l predominantly slow, with a long time to wait for any movement in a faster tempo. That does arrive, if only briefly, in No 8, Eucharist, but soon we revert to a rapt, even ecstatic, holiness. There is an impressive soprano soloist, chosen for something of a baroque quality in her voice, sparing of vibrato, and the last movement Completorioum begins vigorously and is punctuated by energetic broken chordal gestures.

Between the different sections there are bell-like electronic sounds in the electronics - like the rhythm of the Canonical Hours, where monks would go to pray after the chapel bells have tolled - giving the work its "holy" aura. It was recorded in a cathedral in Iceland (which one I cannot read; the small print on grey background is a common mistake made by arts editors, and there are pages full of empty space!). That apart, it is a fully professional production.

Guðmundsson's Apocrypha deserves consideration by departments of early music looking for something different, and,coupled in concert with something suitably contrasting, it would go well in London's Old Naval College Chapel at the Greenwich Early Music Festival (a festival which has a strong contemporary music element).

Interesting, and we would be pleased to consider other music from this source.

Peter Grahame Woolf